Alphabet: A story in Prairie Schooner

In this story we hear from Boo, one of the 10 people who are locked up in Life Without. Boo, or Tomás, has recently learned to read, and through his re-telling of the alphabet, he reveals his experience and perspective on prison life. This character was inspired by a prisoner with whom Lee has worked in creative writing workshops, who was illiterate when he entered prison, and has now earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees inside. Boo discovers the power of words, and thereby, how to raise his voice instead of his fist.

I could always talk real good, and come to think of it, I could conversate with just about anybody. I knew how to break the ice, knew what to say. Knew how to stir things up, too, how to get at someone right where they lived, like a stun gun. I was always good with words.
At my trials I didn't get to use no words at all, seeing as my lawyers thought it best I decline to testify. I wanted to talk for myself, to say what I was thinking, or to be more accurate, how I was too doped up and twisted around and clouded to do much thinking at all, just too caught up in the wanting and needing that was my whole life from waking to sleeping, to do anything but beg and con and sell and steal my way there. At the sentencing I got to say sorry, but who believes you then?

Read the whole story here.